Two wavering Republican senators have lambasted President Donald Trump for mocking a woman who has claimed Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in the 1980s.
The response to Mr Trump’s scoffing at Christine Blasey Ford came as politicians awaited results of a revived FBI background check on accusations of sexual misconduct by Mr Kavanaugh in high school and college.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the chamber will vote on Mr Kavanaugh later this week, and the conservative jurist’s fate is in the hands of a handful of undecided Republican and Democratic senators.
At a political rally in Mississippi on Tuesday night, Mr Trump mimicked Ms Ford’s responses at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week at which she recounted Mr Kavanaugh’s alleged attack on her when both were in high school.
The audience laughed as Mr Trump, at times inaccurately, recounted what he described as holes in her evidence.
“I had one beer – that’s the only thing I remember,” Mr Trump said.
On NBC’s Today show on Wednesday, Republican Senator Jeff Flake said that ridiculing “something this sensitive at a political rally is just not right”.
Mr Flake added: “I wish he hadn’t done it. It’s kind of appalling.”
Separately, Senator Susan Collins told reporters: “The president’s comments were just plain wrong.”
Mr Trump’s aggressive criticism of Ms Ford seems to reflect the sentiments of some of his conservative supporters.
But it raises questions about how such words will affect five senators – all moderates – whose votes on Mr Kavanaugh will be decisive.
Besides Mr Flake and Ms Collins, Republican Lisa Murkowski and Democrats Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp have yet to declare their positions on Mr Kavanaugh.
Mr Flake has clashed repeatedly with Mr Trump over his behaviour and is retiring at the end of the year.
Ms Collins has criticised Mr Trump at times as well but not as often as Mr Flake.
Mr Trump’s comments about Ms Ford reflected a growing frustration among some in the White House, and by the president, that her story has not received the same level of scrutiny as Mr Kavanaugh’s, said a person close to the process.
The FBI has finished an interview with Chris Garrett, a high school friend of Mr Kavanaugh.
Mr Garrett’s lawyer, William Sullivan, said Mr Garrett has voluntarily co-operated with the FBI’s reopened background check, but he declined to comment further.
Mr Garrett is at the least fifth person known to have been interviewed since last Friday, when the White House directed the FBI to look again into the allegations.
Others interviewed include Mark Judge, who Ms Ford has said was in the bedroom where, she alleges, a drunken Mr Kavanaugh sexually attacked her at a 1982 high school gathering.
Also interviewed were two other people Ms Ford said were present but in a different room: Patrick “PJ” Smyth and Leland Keyser.
Mr Judge, Mr Smyth and Ms Keyser said they do not recall the incident described by Ms Ford.
Mr Kavanaugh has denied the accusations by Ms Ford, by Deborah Ramirez, who alleges he exposed himself to her during a college party, and by Julie Swetnick, who has alleged she was victimised at a party attended by Mr Kavanaugh and his friends.
Besides Mr Trump, Senate Republicans also began to aim credibility questions at Ms Ford.
In a letter on Tuesday night, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee pressed Ms Ford to turn over more information to support her claim and accused her lawyers of “withholding material evidence”.
Senator Chuck Grassley repeated his request for notes from Ms Ford’s therapy sessions, details of her communications with The Washington Post and any recordings of her taking a lie detector test.
The senator said he was requesting the recordings because the committee has obtained a letter that “raises specific concerns” about the reliability of Ms Ford’s polygraph test.
In the statement, a man who says he is Ms Ford’s former boyfriend says he saw Ms Ford, a psychology professor, coach a friend on how to be less nervous during a polygraph examination.
If true, the claim could contradict evidence Ms Ford gave last week, when she told senators she had never given tips or advice to anyone taking a lie detector test.